Crash over 6-Foot Ledges of the Brevard Fault Zone on GA’s Sweetwater Creek

sweetwater creek ga
Sweetwater Creek. Photo by Georgia State Parks

Sweetwater Creek is a shady, scenic little stream that drains the corner of Douglas County in suburban Atlanta before emptying into the Chattahoochee River. Sweetwater Creek GA paddling meanders peacefully between 4 foot-tall banks until encountering the Brevard Fault Zone at Sweetwater Creek State Park. Here, serenity turns to mayhem as Sweetwater crashes over 6-foot ledges and churns through complex rock gardens. As is typical for urban streams, the water quality is poor – this, along with the difficulty and intensity of the rapids, makes the creek suitable only for those paddlers with the technical skills necessary to avoid an unplanned swim in Class III-IV water.

Get an Overview of the Chattahoochee Watershed where Sweetwater Creek is located.

USGS and County Maps for Sweetwater Creek GA Kayaking

Mableton, Austell, Ben Hill, Campbellton (USGS); Douglas (County)

Sweetwater Creek State Park to Riverside Parkway

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: III-IV (IV+); Length: 4.1 miles; Time: 3 hours; Gauge: Web, visual; Level: 1.6 feet; Gradient: 31 (51) feet per mile; Scenery: B-

DESCRIPTION

The upper 3-mile flatwater section of Sweetwater Creek GA paddling can be circumvented by putting in at Sweetwater Creek State Park. Here, the creek enters its most scenic and exciting section, as it crashes over 6-foot ledges and churns through complex rock gardens for nearly a mile of nonstop action before hurtling over Sweetwater Falls. Access is available at the park via a 500-meter trail from the parking area downhill to the creek. Hiking trails hug the river right side throughout the run, making this a possible, but extensive, park-and-play spot.

The best Sweetwater Creek GA paddling routes through the rapids at the park are generally found on river left. The creek retains a lot of wood that relocates at high flows; actively scout from the river and banks to avoid encounters with logs and overhanging branches. After the first major ledge, the intense bump and grind continue up to the edge of the falls, which are scouted from the observation deck on river right. At flows above 5 feet, the section above the falls contains more than one Class IV drop.

Sweetwater Falls, a broken ledge rapid, is the highest drop on the river and approaches Class V difficulty above 7 feet. Different lines open up as the water levels change; scout to choose the best route. Below the falls, Sweetwater Creek GA paddling holds a few more exciting drops and surfing waves before reaching the take-out at Riverside Parkway. Take-out here to avoid an extensive paddle on the Chattahoochee in its most abused state.

SHUTTLE

From 1-20, exit at Thornton Road and turn south. Continue on Thornton to Riverside Parkway, the last traffic light before crossing the Chattahoochee. Turn right and continue to the creek 2.5 miles ahead. To get to the put-in at the park, return to Thornton Road north and turn left at Blair Bridge Road, the last traffic light before reaching 1-20. At the stop sign at Mount Vernon Road, turn left and follow signs to the park entrance on the left. Continue straight ahead to the dead-end at the trailhead parking lot.

GAUGE

What remains of the traditional gauge is painted on the pilings at Blair Bridge Road south of 1-20, on the river left downstream side. Minimum level is 1.6 feet, although up to 2.5 feet can still be scrapey. A good level is 4; 6 is considered high. The maximum is 10 feet, though it has been run at higher levels. The USGS Web site lists gauge data for the creek near Austell, upstream of this section and not correlated with the visual gauge. With the creek’s large drainage basin, levels stay up for as much as 3-4 days depending on the season and rainfall. For more information, call Sweetwater Creek State Park at (770) 732-5871.

See more Georgia Rivers

This Sweetwater Creek GA kayaking guide is adapted from Canoeing and Kayaking Georgia by Suzanne Welander and Bob Sehlinger and published here in cooperation with Menasha Ridge Press. Canoeing and Kayaking Georgia covers thousands of miles of Georgia waterways from whitewater to wilderness swamps and everything in between. It’s an indispensable guide to anyone interested in paddling Georgia’s rivers and streams. Order directly from Menasha Ridge Press. See a comprehensive list of other Menasha outdoor publications indexed by title, author, category, and region.

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